The ground is littered with a blizzard fall of leaves. Some of the houses have cleaned them up which is a crime in my book. Surely one of the beauties of this time of year is the burnt orange and golden confetti that crunches beneath our feet. A mist settles all around us, blanketing the town in miniature droplets, making straight hair curly and grey things black under a layer of damp.
The children look like little eskimos when they’re wrapped up in new winter coats, the only things exposed are faces and hands. Ringlets frame their faces as their hair coils in the heavy, dewy air. Today, they get to dress up in costume at school. The usual morning chatter weaves around us, however this time, it’s not coming from uniformed students, but a bat, three witches, two black cats, a superhero and a small, zombie bride. Fake blood, fake teeth, fake witches nails and fake severed limbs adorn their innocent little selves. They become absorbed into the school building and all is quiet again: monsters, ghosts and ghouls disappeared.
The heat of the house embraces me like a hug as I open the front door and remove my armour from the cold. With a meaty stew bubbling on the hob, my attention strays out the window to the forgotten back garden.
It settles into the season ahead, all desolation and bare, brown branches. Dotted around is the evidence of a summer of plenty. The barbeque, once full of red coals under sizzling steak, is now rusty and broken. A dilapidated greenhouse, not so long ago, the incubator of the vegetable patch, protecting the baby shoots, lies on its side, cracked and dismantled. Bamboo sticks left lying around, formerly the scaffolding for the tomato plants, not needed now as the tomatoes have long since been consumed by greedy mouthes. The children’s toys left idle, no longer jumped upon, rode around or decorated with sand pit sand, and are now sitting sad and neglected, covered in silvery webs and muck.
All produce has been removed and either eaten or promoted to indoor dwelling, like the pumpkins who had to be torn from their mother plant in a flurry of panic after an early forecast of frost. They reside in their superior setting now, growing ripe and orange, awaiting their fate – to be carved into horrifying features. The only life residing in this garden now is the occasional bird looking for worms, the stunted lawn and the cool October breeze rustling through the undressed plants.
I stir the pot and think of the pink cheeked children who will bundle back through the door in a few hours, disrobing and leaving hats, scarves and gloves in their wake on the floor. They’ll tuck hungrily into the hot stew, spilling it all over their costumes. I’ll complain but feel satisfied that they’ve something warm in their little bellies before they go back out again as little monsters, hounding the neighbours for sweets and treats, warning of tricks for non-compliance.
Anyone from Springfield in Tallaght and its surrounds will appreciate this. The joy of the simple but satisfying ‘Pound Special’ from North Park. I don’t know what they put in that stuff but it sure was delicious. It is the inspiration for this piece of flash fiction.
Pushing open the heavy aluminium door, we are shrouded and enveloped in smells of star anise and onion. A deep, appreciative inhalation as we walk towards the counter that’s so high, we are only eyes and forehead above it. We hand over our pound coins, placing them onto the greasy counter that’s mottled with tatty menus and old, yellowed sellotape. Our stomachs growl in the anticipation and aroma of the curry sauce that wafts out of the hatch every time the surly counter girl opens it to pass an order in to the kitchen staff. We look at each other and smile. Most kids spend their pocket money on sweets. Not us. Every Friday, we walk to the chinese and spend our hard earned, household chore money on this local delicacy.
We watch anxiously as the hatch opens and that gloriously mundane paper bag is pushed through but our hope is dashed as the girl reads out a different order to ours and a portly man stands to retrieve his meal. We swap disappointed glances as our stomachs protest hungrily.
Then, it opens again.
“Two Pound Specials,” the girl calls in her deep, disaffected Dublin accent.
We smile to each other and taking the paper bag in hand, walk into the November night, hands frozen but soon warmed on the hot tin foil tub. We take them from the bag and let the fragrant steam assault our noses as we remove the lids. Eating from a plastic fork seems to improve the saltiness of the curry on our tongues, the chips like sponges, absorbing the rich sauce and the rice is light and slightly chewy. Each mouthful is like a flame from a log fire, heating our bellies from within against the bite of the winter air.
We walk slowly home, not speaking, just a satisfied grunt every now and again as we savour our weekly indulgence. A peak cap wearing reprobate walks by us and stops, regarding us suspiciously and we recoil a little.
“Gimme that curry,” he spits aggressively.
“You’re not getting my curry, but I’ll give ya all my smokes,” my friend says, meeting his eye contact, not backing down, holding the curry tightly to his chest with one hand, extracting the full packet of cigarettes from his pocket with the other. The youth favours this trade and goes along his way, lighting one of the cigarettes smugly as he goes.
My friend and I exchange glances, shrug and resume enjoying our hard earned treat.
My cat Bob, Bob Buttons to award him his full title, is a cat among cats. In fact, he’s more than a cat among cats – he’s a leader, a trend setter, a feline eminence. We were a week away from moving into our new, first home: all bare floors and magnolia walls. The first thing that would grace our house would be a cat. We met Bob who was a six week old bundle of orange fuzziness and knew we must have him. Being forced to take him a week early, meant he had to live in a pet carrier until our house was ready. In it, he was cosy with a mini litter tray (a takeaway box filled with litter), his food bowl and a cushion to sleep on: a kitten bento box. To this day, he can’t pass a pet carrier without getting in, lying down and claiming it as his own.
So we finally moved in. He had a sniff around, decided it was modest enough and laid down his hat. Should he have had the ability to speak, he would have said ‘yes, fine humans. This will do.’ We subsequently purchased him a bed: the kind that hooks onto the radiator and is made of sheep skin. Did we have a couch for ourselves? No. We had an inflatable children’s armchair and a deck chair. But Bob would look down at us from his heated height and yawn at us: his uncomfortably seated comrades.
He was a playful kitten. His party piece, to rear up on his back legs and ‘box’ with us or his very entertaining crab impression: arching his back, his fur standing on end, ears flat to his head and run sideways, thinking his tiny, fluffy self formidable and terrifying. His favourite thing was to jump into our car and head off for a visit to my parents. He’d lie across the back window, watching the cars behind us. His other transport method of choice was across my shoulders, sometimes on my head when he was small enough. Being a new estate, we didn’t know our neighbours but I’m pretty sure they thought I had hideous dress sense: this orange stripy fur hat that doubled as a scarf. Once they knew the truth of my living garment, their opinion changed from oddly dressed lady to crazy cat lady pretty quickly.
Some neighbours may not have been as fond of our marmalade moggy as we. He was often known to sneak into their houses and either rob things or repose on their beds. A lad living behind us, stopped us one day, asking if he was our cat. Dubiously, we muttered ‘yes’ and ‘why?’ As we cringed, he explained that oftentimes he’d come out of his shower to find Bob laid flat out on his bed, fast asleep. We uttered a hurried apology and ran inside, issuing a futile scolding to the impervious Bob.
Once retiring from burglary and breaking and entering, he turned over a new leaf and became a superb neighbourhood watch-man. During a particular incident on our street which made the headlines country wide, Bob could be seen on the six and nine o’clock bulletins, sitting on the victim’s wheely bin, scoping out the crime scene. Not one detective or police car got by without a thorough inspection of the chassis and sometimes roof. The street felt safer with Bob on the case, I’m sure of it.
So Bob was our baby for the better part of four years. A new cat, Molly joined us and while they are reasonably amicable, they could take or leave each other. Then real babies came along. On bringing our brand new baby daughter home for the first time, we of course worried about ‘the cat sleeping on the baby’s face.’ We needn’t have worried. Bob couldn’t have given less of a hoot if he’d tried. Things got real when the baby became mobile. Bob was now a moving target. But, being as laid back as ever, he accepted this fate and was often rewarded for the tail pulling with a rub, cuddle or playful headbutt. Eight years later and the two, along with our second daughter, are the best friends you could find. Adding a dog into the mix didn’t upset him either. Retaining his alpha status, the dog is put swiftly in his place with a nail studded swipe. He can regularly be seen following us half way to school. Once he gets as far as he has the bottle for, he’ll sit and wail until we fade out of view.
As he settles into his geriatric years, (he’s now twelve) he’s still got that spark of devilment in his eyes. But he is slowing down and prefers nothing more than the company of his ‘mammy’ at night by the fire. Not deterred by working on a laptop or any kind of device, he will firmly place himself between it and me and there will be no moving on him. He’s also decided that he’s too good for his litter tray, preferring to pee into the part of the garden wall where the cap stone is gone and the cavity block is exposed, leaving him a perfect little hole which he’s adapted to be his urinal.
Whether it’s a ginger cat thing, or whether he was just blessed with having bags of personality, there isn’t and could never be another like my cat Bob.
Cold cream tile
Channelling the last of the sun.
Candle glow swells
Forcing outwards, meeting the sunlight,
Mingling within its dying moments.
The body warms beneath it.
Tepid water laps and sways,
Healing as it goes.
The mind settled, body peaceful.
Lungs taste the sweetness
Of Lavender and Geranium
Then exhale calm fortitude.
Sitar music tickles the air,
Winding, dancing on the condensation.
Steam whirls and twists
Around the flame
As mind and body coalesce:
A rare occasion.
This half light beckons me,
Lightly touching me awake
With the gentlest of fingers,
Placating me with the promise of day.
The night was empty.
A vacuum of dark unfamiliarity
Where I floundered
And craved the morning.
Another customer walks into the video shop, looks at what’s playing on the shop TV and rolls his eyes.
“Every time I come in here, that tornado film is on,” he complains as I shrug with indifference and go back to stretching my chewing gum out and sucking it back in while I recite Bill Paxton’s lines along with him. Then later that afternoon, my boss arrives in and I get the same objection from him.
My fascination with extreme weather began long before Jan de Bont’s dramatic Hollywood-ification of a group of storm chasers, or indeed my first job as ‘video shop attendant’ (the fancy name for ‘works in video shop when not in college.’) I inhaled books and documentaries about tornadoes, hurricanes and storms. So rare are severe storms on this island of Ireland, so soothed is its climate by the Atlantic influence, that these phenomena are wondrous to me.
So, after writing my first novel (unpublished), a romantic story about finding your first love again and how it’s not what you thought it would be, I felt broody again. It’s the same as when you have your first baby, you adore them, stare at them all day etc, then one day, you realise that you want to do it all over again, give yourself over to another human being… or in this case, novel.
I tried to force some ideas, which after twenty thousand words or so, realised wasn’t working. So I decided to sit back, stop trying so hard and let inspiration come to me. And it did. While on a child free weekend away in beautiful West Cork, I was watching a storm roll in off the Atlantic. Like the nerd I am, I had my phone in front of me with the rainfall radar and the laptop with the sferic (lightning) detector on it. And like a bolt of lightning itself (groan), inspiration struck. I was going to write about storm chasers. When I announced this to my husband, he suggested that the main character should have a hook, a flaw if you will, something that made him stand out in the crowd of storm chasers. That’s when I came up with the character of Jonah. I wanted him to be broken, vulnerable but fighting against that vulnerability.
Sam is the main character and she too is broken. Being in her early thirties and having been widowed, she’s a little lost where her life and career are concerned. She realises that she and Jonah are more kindred than she’d thought: not only similar in their pasts, but also in their dependence on the pursuit of tornadoes. I wanted to form a kind of relationship between these two people, who are thrown together into a situation where they spend their time trapped in a truck, that reflects the tempestuousness of the storms they chase.
As soon as we got home from Cork, I started to write. And boy, did I write. After six weeks, I had seventy five thousand words written, was almost on the verge of divorce, and had forgotten the names of my children and pets. Anyone who has written a novel will tell you that you can’t write one in six weeks. And they’re right. You can’t. My first draft was awkward, disjointed and riddled with typos. But the story was there, the characters were developing. I took the monumental decision to send it to a professional editor. Think of it as finding a stranger on the internet, then giving them your first born child to look after for several weeks and then at the end, have them tell you that they were ugly and naughty. Ah no, that’s not entirely true. It wasn’t that bad. It just took a couple of storyline and character development tweaks as well as a LOT of typo corrections and we were on the right track.
The editing was arduous, the formatting was worse than giving birth and the stress and insomnia almost saw to the end of me, but thanks to the odd glass of Pinot Grigio, my wonderful husband (who did most of the formatting, but if anyone asks, it was me) and very tolerant children, I got through it. The day I received the cover from the graphic designer, I felt a flutter of first love in my stomach. The day I received the first proof from Createspace, I squealed, giggled and hugged it so hard, I almost turned it into a diamond. I brought it in the car with me, slept with it, gazed adoringly at it, stroked it. By the third proof, which I found several typos in, I wanted to burn it but that’s all behind me now.
And so, Eye of the Storm is now finished. I’m sad that in a way, my life is moving on: like my baby is gone off to college to find its own way in the world, so too is my book. I reminisce on how I fell in love with Jonah as I was writing about him, how I wished Sam was a real person who was with me in real life so I could help her through her difficulties. I remember how I would be shopping or driving and see something and think, “Jonah would love that,” or “Sam would probably like those shoes.” They became part of my family for the better part of a year and now I’ve to let them go. Will I write a sequel? Who knows? I’ve toyed with the idea, even written the beginnings of one. I have another book I want to put through the publishing process too so that will take some attention. But for now, I must stand on the pier, sniffle and wave with my tear sodden tissue as my baby sets sail into the world.
Click here to view Eye of the Storm.
A plume billows up from behind the mountain,
Swallowing blue, looming, mighty architecture.
Like a giant swarm, it’s poised to consume.
It grows and morphs, ready to attack.
Throwing birds out into the air,
They scatter and screech as they go,
A warning to take cover and brace
For something is coming.
The springtime buds shiver and shake
As the updraft pulls and pushes them
Sucking air into the beast
Making it stronger and more powerful.
The sun beams its last few rays
Before being overcome by grey
As a shelf of cloud rolls over the land
The herald of things to come.
All has silenced and darkened
A cold breeze blows excitedly
As the monster opens herself
And the deluge blankets all around.
The sky fractures, a crystal crack to the ground
Then a few seconds peace before the bang.
A clatter of hail, like pebbles falling
From a child’s palm.
The sun gains the upper hand once again,
Victoriously throwing out rays from behind.
Mocking the April storm, who retreats,
Like a scolded dog.
The rain pounded on the window like an angry drummer thrashing out a rhythm. The mottled grey sky, mirrored half heartedly in the slug grey Liffey, cast no light into the room nor the streets below where the splashes from each pedestrian’s footfall was a backing track to idling cars stuck in the riverside traffic. The wipers on each rain spattered windscreen swooshed back and forth, back and forth.
He hated Saturdays now. Somehow the endlessness of the day was further mocked by the busy street below: people rushing about, shopping, chatting, spending time as the day eased away from them. Such a stark contrast to his, being alone in this apartment that he had grown to hate over the past few months. He used to have days like the people below where he’d take her to lunch on Grafton Street, then stroll through the Green or shopping for her favourite thing: shoes.
He felt that familiar wedge in his stomach as he thought of her blue eyes, mirrored in the azure, spring sky, her long blonde hair falling into ringlets down her back, the way she smiled almost all the time.
His eye was drawn to the orange-yellow sunflower that was swaying in the breeze, the only thing of colour within his view, the only sun in his sky. He reminisced about the day she had planted the seed, the promise of sun that the little black, striated thing held: a world of colour soon to be admired hiding in that tiny little shell. She’d watered it, whispered something to it and smiled up at him.
That was the day before he’d come home to find a note from her mother. She didn’t love him anymore and was leaving. He ran to her room and what had been a haven of pink fabric and teddy bears was empty and grey. He’d read the letter again. It had gone on to say he’d be able to see his daughter once a month from now on, nothing more.
His gaze fell from the sunflower to the solicitor’s letter on the table below. He vowed that before that plant withered and died, he’d have his little daughter in his arms again, no matter how hard he had to fight.
As a fan of Tim Samaras and his team, I’m shocked and saddened to the core by their untimely and unfair deaths.
This poem is for them.
For Tim, Paul and Carl.
Today, skyward faces of intrepid chasers,
Are instead ground fixed and downturned.
Anemometers still, radars powered down,
Models neglected, ignored.
This brethren of hunters, these brothers of storms,
Mourn the loss of a father, a mentor.
Their everyday banter, emulous jibes
Are replaced by the silence of grief.
I ask of Mother Nature for a day of reprieve,
A moment’s peace for your fallen devotees.
Let the only rain be tears, no tempestuous games,
Give your soldiers of science time to heal.
To die in the field of battle,
Brings an honour that few can attain.
So rest easy, brave men of discovery,
Know your deaths will not let be in vain.
Every so often, a tragedy occurs that leaves me heart heavy and unable to comprehend. Sometimes it’s easier to feel through the pen (or rather, keyboard) than to try to make sense of it all. This poem is written about the Boston Marathon Bomb.
Run for glory, run for pride.
Run for your life.
Applause and cheers,
Sweat and smiles fall to silence,
Punctured only by
Screams and tears.
As people swarm,
Willing to attend,
A silent stream trickles
Between their legs.
Joining the river in the road.
The flags are still again.
Their colours marred
The sanguine stench
Fills the noses
Of the fallen.
If only the sun were
The universal god we worshipped,
Life would still remain beloved.
Praise among kindred,
The stain of hatred laundered,
The World pristine.